March 25 at
the 9:30 Club, John Darnielle & Co. alternately enthrall and confound an
eager crowd, see-sawing from one deep catalog cut to the next.
By Roxana Hadadi / Photos by Adam Fried
It’s hella hard to appreciate something you don’t recognize.
And it’s worse to stand through nearly 20 songs you don’t know just to get to
six good ones, a trying ordeal for anyone who attended the Mountain Goats show
March 25 at the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C.
Maybe if you have somehow memorized the Mountain Goats’
enormous catalog – with 13 albums out since 1994, including the latest, All Eternals Deck, released March 29 –
you would have appreciated the show, which basically seemed like
singer-songwriter John Darnielle pointed randomly at a list full of songs and
decided to play whatever his talented little fingers laded on. Deep cut. Then
another deep cut. Then Darnielle talking about how the band hasn’t played this
song in years, and he’s so excited, but he hopes he doesn’t forget anything.
Oh, and did I mention deep cuts?
To be fair, Darnielle is a well-intentioned guy. All he wants to do with this tour – which
currently continues for another few weeks, ending April 15 in Philadelphia – is
switch up the set list, which he told the 9:30 Club’s sold-out crowd has
basically been the “same basic group of proven live numbers” for a while now.
By looking backward, Darnielle hopes to please fans who may be sick of hearing
the same old songs tour in, tour out, he says.
That would have been fine and good, if only the Mountain
Goats hadn’t done the same thing when they were last at the 9:30 Club – Nov. 6,
2008, with openers Kaki
King and Adam Ezra. Though Darnielle, bassist Peter Hughes and drummer Jon
Wurster played a few songs from then-new album Heretic Pride, most of the set list
jumped around from record to record, from 2004’s We Shall Be Healed to 2006’s Get
Lonely to 1996’s
Nothing for Juice. At one point, Darnielle even stopped midway through a song,
“Transjordanian Blues,” because he couldn’t remember the lyrics. If even
Darnielle couldn’t recall his own words, how could he expect fans to?
for the most part March 25, they didn’t. The crowd (a few inexplicably toting
humongous hiking backpacks to the show, and most sweaty in the overly warm
venue) cheered and clapped and whooped, but also desperately shouted out song
titles early and often, hoping that Darnielle would pick their favorite song as
his next deep cut. Alas, people. The man won’t give into your petty needs.
Darnielle did whatever he damn well pleased, starting with “Liza Forever
Minnelli,” the closer from All Eternals Deck. The crowd whooped in
approval when Darnielle snarled, “Anyone here mentions ‘Hotel California,’ dies
before the first line clears his lips,” but otherwise they generally stayed
quiet. Even in this age of Internet plundering, when All Eternals Deck has been floating around
for download for a while, no one dared to sing along.
was a theme that would continue for most of the night: From “Broom People” and
“Dinu Lipatti’s Bones,” off 2005’s The Sunset Tree; to “Estate Sale Sign,”
“Damn These Vampires” and “Birth of Serpents,” from All Eternals Deck; to “Minnesota” from
1997’s Full Force
Galesburg; to “Woke Up New” from Get Lonely. Darnielle powered through
them all with his typical charm and showmanship, pacing the stage and engaging
the audience with his as-always bizarre-yet-funny commentary (“That’s not true
for the band!” he said of fans preferring performances with small audiences,
after praising the sprawling crowd), but Darnielle’s animation alone couldn’t
stall boredom from setting in.
After the 10th song or so, frustration just couldn’t be helped.
Emotional songs like “You Were Cool” are good and everything, but it’s
challenging to fully understand Darnielle’s relationship with it when even he
admits, “I never know what to say about this song.” And it took more than a
dozen tracks to get to a full-fledged sing along – the crowd happily pounced on
“Family Happiness” off 2000’s The Coroner’s Gambit, showing more
enthusiasm than they had all night, but then settled down again when Darnielle
started “Seeing Daylight,” off 1993’s Beautiful Rat Sunset EP, and
“Beautiful Gas Mask,” again off All Eternals Deck.
Where were the songs from Heretic Pride and 2002’s Tallahassee? If you
had the patience to wait around for the Mountain Goats’ two encores, you were finally
rewarded, as Darnielle ultimately performed much-loved classics “This Year,”
“No Children,” “The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton,” “Southwood
Plantation Road” and “Going to Georgia,” as well as “The Sign,” a cover of the
hilariously kitschy track from Swedish pop group Ace of Base. But not even
songs that good can make such a wait any less torturous. Next tour, if the
Mountain Goats could leave the deep cuts in the past, that’d be great.